Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why Federer isn't the greatest..

When i first started watching Tennis, it was the good old Doordarshan era. We had a black and white television and me and my father used to watch Wimbledon whenever it was shown. I guess only the semi finals and the finals were shown at that time.
The only other matches that were streamed via the DD were the boring-till-you-die Davis cup games where the Amritraj brothers would loose as a habit. Till date i am not sure how a non-athelete like Ramesh-chubby-pouch-Krishnan ever get into a game like Tennis. Speaks volumes of the Tennis at that time; in India atleast.

John McNroe was already a hot item and his and Jimmy Conners battles were legendary. I think that was the start of the golden period of tennis. Somehow as years passed and i watched Tennis more regularly, i figured that great rivalries were essential ingredients to make this game tick. If you remove rivalries, you remove the spice and the motivation to watch this game.

There was the Becker-Edberg rivalry then there was the Sampras-Aggassi rivalry. On the female side after the Martina-Evert rivalry reached dizzying heights, Graff replaced Evert and then Seles replaced Navratilova.
Rivalry almost defined this great event every year. Sampras-Aggassi rivalry was by far the greatest in recent times.

Then somehow tennis started loosing these battles and it became more and more one sided. I started loosing interest in tennis when i saw different faces every year in different arenas. Federar was the only constant. This leads me to believe that the era of great rivalries has finally ended in Tennis. Now, some would argue that Roger-Rafael can be considered rivals ; i'd say not exactly. Except for great stamina, that Nadal uses effectively on the clay courts, talent and skill wise Federer is leaps and bounds ahead of him. They are not equals like say Sampras-Agassi or Borg-Conners.

So although Federer is the undisputed King of the court, [even though he lost all French opens], there's no one to challenge him. No one is stretching him too far. He is number 1 and the next best is number 8 or 9.

So when Federer is called the greatest Tennis player of all time, its a shot in the dark. How is he the greatest? Why is he the greatest? On the basis of records and statistics? I'd say thats not really the ideal way to conclude then!

Apart from pure skill and talent there are a few things that make a player a great one. Stamina, attitude, raw power and above all consistency. If you got to judge players from different eras and rank them on all these parameters the results would be closer to reality. Just because Roger Federer does not have a genuine competion and no pressure from bottom you cannot rank him as the greatest.

Somehow this notion of talking in superlatives have come into us.

I'd say Sampras was the greatest and yet i could be wrong for some 50 year guy who might still consider Rod Laver as the greatest.. There's no easy way to compare. It's like comparing current Australian cricket team with the West Indies side of the late 70s. You just cannot compare the two, can you?

People compare Tendulkar and Bradman. HOW? How can you compare them and say one is better than the other. There's no possible bench mark that can be defined EVER.

So Federer does have a great back hand. I can say thats the best back hand that *I* have ever seen. But again i haven't seen so many players that i can rank him as the best ever, It's the best ever that I know of.
His backhand is dangerously flat, very fast and acute angled and impossible to return. Yet i would desist from calling him the greatest player ever.

But i can say something for sure. If Sampras would have been born say 8 years later or Federer was born a decade earlier, Tennis would then have seen its greatest rivalry ever. Both are great serve and volley guys. Both have great power serves, though Sampras has the better height and angle and is more studied. Both have great attitude and both are great spectacle to watch.

Imagine the great returns of Becker [ the ones where he falls and yet angles the ball exactly out of the reach of the opponent] , the powerful aces of Ivaniciwich, the awesome serve and volley of Sampras, the near perfect placement of Agassi and the terrific backhand of Federer all in one era !!! What a treat that would have been.

Nevertheless the point is we cannot rank one player or one team for that matter better than any other player or a team from a different era.
Federer is by far the best player amongst the current crop, but he still is not the greatest ALL time guy IMO. I am sure on a good day the best of Becker or Agassi can beat him.

Tennis is also about mind game. The way McNroe used his anger to manipulate a hapless Conners into submission is the aspect usually missed in his victories. This is not to say he wasn't a great and gifted player. Yet besides all that he had this power of unnerving his challenger by showing physical emotion on the field. A craft he greatly used for his wins.

Federer of what i have seen is not mentally tough. He, i think can be easily manipulted by a really smart player. Or even a super cool head like Sampras could have worked on his weaknesses and made the most of it. Tennis like all sports require hard-nosed mental toughness and if you don't have that your best skills may still let you down.

So here's the bottom line. Don't ever call anyone, anyone as the Greatest EVER. That can never be proved.
Federer is a good player, infact a great one but GREATEST, nah. I am not sure.

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